Below is the next in a series of Guest Blogs on BRHP. The opinions expressed in this Guest Blog are of Steve Weller himself. Publication of these opinions in BRHP does not imply that BRHP automatically agrees with or endorses these opinions. Publication of this, and other guest blogs, facilitates an open debate and free exchange of opinions on wireless technology and health.
Guest Blog from Steve Weller
My name is Steven Weller and I have a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and microbiology from Monash University. For the past 7 years I have been reviewing and categorizing more than 3000 scientific research papers on non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation (EMR)/Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF). I am one of the founding members of the Oceania Radiofrequency Advisory Association (ORSAA) and also a public representative on the Electromagnetic Energy Reference Group (EMERG) committee established by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). EMERG meets twice a year with representatives from industry, government health and regulatory bodies, work health and safety, academics and members of the public to discuss topics of interest relating to wireless technology, radiofrequency radiation and health.
The contents of this blog are my personal opinions and do not necessary reflect the opinions held by ORSAA or the EMERG committee members.
At the most recent EMERG meeting held on May 8th 2018 in Melbourne, Australia, I presented on the following two important topics:
- Risk Management (presentation slides: Risk Management Presentation – public version )
- Research Needs (presentation slides: Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Research Needs – public version )
I purposefully chose these topics because they encapsulate the major short comings I see in the advice that radiation protection bodies are providing to the general public and to the research community, as described below.
The main purpose for presenting on “Risk Management” to an audience that should already be very familiar with this topic, was to highlight the current flawed approach taken by many radiation protection bodies around the world. Today, there is a requirement by government departments, such as ARPANSA, to “establish evidence of harm” before acknowledging that there might be a problem requiring action. Such a philosophy would seem to be misplaced and not in alignment with international risk management best practices. In addition, there also appears to be an absence of robust risk management policies and practices in the non-ionizing radiation space, unlike ionizing radiation where a precautionary approach is enshrined in safety policies and is supported by a comprehensive hierarchy of controls.
Currently, there is an absence of a publicly visible risk register identifying possible health risks from chronic exposures to man-made EMR/EMF at or below public limits set by regulatory authorities. The limited risk mitigation strategies that are provided within fact sheets are often weak, indecisive, ambiguous and optional (i.e., “for those who might be concerned”). With the lack of full disclosure of risks, it is no wonder a large section of the public remains blasé and indifferent to the need for safe usage practices pertaining to wireless devices designed for personal use.
The presentation attached to this blog suggests what a best practice approach may look like, including recommendations for risk classification, calculating costs as well as providing simple but effective mitigation strategies. The current challenges in creating such strategies are also examined.
An example risk assessment matrix is provided as an entry point into the risk management discussion, which should not to be taken as the last word on the subject of radiofrequency (RF) health risks. Clearly, risks are to be seen as potential hazards, not established evidence of harm. Additionally, the probability of a risk occurring is not at the individual level but at the level of the population as a whole. For example, the probability of an individual getting a brain tumour from using a mobile phone is likely to be quite small; however, given the scientific evidence that is available today, the probability of seeing a brain tumour in the wider population due to heavy cell phone usage over many years is comparatively high. Given the size of the population that is being exposed, any health risk, even if considered small, is likely to be costly if it materializes.
Today, we see radiation protection organizations trying to balance potential harm against economic benefits. This is a particularly odious approach especially when those subject to the risks are not given a choice with regards to 24×7 exposures to mobile phone towers, smart meters, radar and public Wi-Fi, while at the same time, many remain uninformed in relation to potential health risks.
Furthermore, there appears to be a clear disconnect between the health risks being suggested by science and what is being advised to the public by radiation protection authorities. For most western nations this is likely to be due to radiation protection authorities taking advice from the International Commission of Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). ICNIRP’s philosophy on non-ionizing radiation protection lacks a robust precautionary approach as they require established evidence of harm before incorporating more stringent protection into their RF exposure guidelines. To date, ICNIRP does not see, or advise of, any notable risks for RF-EMF exposures at or below public limits, again this is contrary to what independent researchers are suggesting.
Many of the risks identified in my presentation are avoidable, or at the very least, can be reduced if the public is informed that wireless technology is not without risks. There are simple methods to reduce health risks, some of which have been outlined in my presentation.
My second presentation on the day discussed research needs. I chose this subject after reviewing ARPANSA’s TR-178 document that is purportedly based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) own recommended EMF research agenda (2010). I have critically assessed TR-178 as being a rudimentary and incomplete research program. There is far too much focus on a specific technology (e.g. mobile phones) along with a heavy emphasis on brain tumours, other sources of RF emissions are ignored and the myriad of associated health risks overlooked.
There are a variety of wireless technologies that are bathing humanity on a daily basis with man-made RF-EMF. While some RF-EMF exposure is consensual (personal wireless devices), a significant amount is not. It is very concerning that other sources of man-made RF-EMF are not being addressed in ARPANSA’s research needs document. Equally important is the failure to look for other health outcomes that independent research is suggesting as a result of long-term chronic RF-EMF exposures. Neurodegeneration, mental illness, allergies, cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases that are on the rise in our developed nations were absent from the research agenda. Another glaring omission is the wider environmental impact of radiofrequency radiation on plants, insects, birds and other wildlife.
The rationale to focus on mobile phones and brain tumours is understood. Mobile phones, when placed against the head and active, will be the source of the highest exposure to radiofrequencies when compared with other sources in the surrounding environment. The “deadly” glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a type of aggressive brain tumour, has more than doubled in occurrence over the last 20 years within a number of European countries. Furthermore, research papers (Hardell, Interphone, CERENAT) are suggesting a possible association between a number of rare nerve tumours and cell phone use (heavy users), the very same rare tumours observed in the much talked about NTP study.
However, such a restricted focus on brain tumours misses the opportunity to better understand the following issues that can have an impact on health and well being:
1. Bio-effects observed in research do not always follow a linear dose – response relationship. Higher power (mobile phone against the side of the head) does not necessarily translate to a larger biological response. There appears to be windows of intensity and frequency where lower exposures can elicit larger biological responses when looking at tumour promotion effects (Lerchl, 2015) or when looking at blood brain barrier effects (Salford, 2003). Many other examples can be found in the ORSAA database (www.orsaa.org).
2. Phone calls are of a limited duration, while man-made environmental RF exposures are occurring 24×7 from cell phone towers, Wi-Fi in the home, office and schools, mesh networked smart meters, cordless phone base units etc. Thus, the effect of intensity versus duration requires more comprehensive investigation.
3. With smart phones, RF exposures can occur more frequently than the previous generation of mobile phones due to data access requirements of installed applications. Location of exposure is also impacted as headsets (corded or Bluetooth connected) are used to answer calls without the need to put a mobile phone near one’s head. This can lead to scenarios where exposure of other body parts and organs may occur for long duration and is dependent on the location phone is being carried (breast pocket, trouser pocket etc.). Thus, phone usage variables such as data use and place on body need further investigation along with corresponding disease endpoints (breast cancer, testicular cancer, prostate cancer etc.).
4. Past epidemiological and in vivo studies suggest chronic RF exposure have been linked to
- Altered neurotransmitter levels that can lead to negative neuropsychological and neurophysiological outcomes i.e. anxiety, addiction, depression, headaches, insomnia, concentration difficulties, altered behaviour etc.
- Circadian rhythm changes and changes in hormone levels/release timing can lead to increased risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, immune system dysfunction, alteration in cognitive function etc.
- Increased DNA damage which may lead to cell malfunction, cell transformation or cell death
- Immune system effects such as over active, under active and auto immune conditions.
- Oxidative stress leading to cell macromolecule, membrane, protein and DNA damage
- Infertility and sterility
- Pregnancy and developmental effects
All the above end points are missing in the ARPANSA TR-178 research agenda. This is most disappointing as some of these endpoints may have a definitive role in the diseases that currently burden our health system, including:
- Cancer (not just brain tumours – i.e. thyroid, prostate, breast, leukemias to name a few)
- Cardiovascular disease – particularly those cases that show no obvious risk factors
- Neurodegeneration (Dementia, Alzheimer’s etc.)
- Mental illness
- Autoimmune diseases: Motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes
- Developmental problems
It would appear that outdated and incorrect philosophies dominate the viewpoints of non-ionizing radiation protection/regulatory bodies. A case perhaps where there is an application of too much physics and engineering principles in isolation and not integrated with the field of biology and medicine.
Unless the nexus between government and industry ’can be broken it is unlikely we will see a fair assessment of the science or the recognition of the potential harm that is being suggested by the accumulated research. The main issue being there is too much money to be made and to take a precautionary stance is seen as an unnecessary burden because it would undoubtedly have negative consequences on industrial output, population surveillance initiatives and military function. The real cost this technology is having on health is a big unknown because there is active avoidance by authorities to look at the big picture, perform health surveillance studies and review the available scientific evidence objectively.